When a Preacher Is Older Than the Elders

what happens when age relationships shift?

Preacher: “I’m ten years older and have been preaching all my life, and he’s trying to tell me what to do.” Elder: “Our preacher doesn’t respect the elders. He’s older and thinks he should tell us how to lead the church.”

I’ve experienced and observed this for several decades: a changing attitude and relationship of some preachers and their elders when the preacher becomes older than the shepherds in the congregation.

I understand the change. When I was younger, I related to elders as father figures because of their age and authority. I wanted to please. I didn’t want to disagree. I was reluctant to discuss money. I was so hesitant I rejected my first raise.

The summer I was thirty-seven, I began to talk with elders as adult to adult. I lost some fear. I was able to say what I thought and felt. I asked for what I wanted. When I had a different idea, I gained the courage to share it.

There may be a danger at this point of over-compensating.

When a preacher becomes elder (older than some or all of the elders), the dynamic changes. Preachers and elders would do well to talk about this before it happens. How will each adapt to this new relationship?

[tweetthis]I was reluctant to discuss money. I was so hesitant I rejected my first raise.[/tweetthis]

Questions for Preachers

  1. Can you respect men younger than you who have oversight of you and others?
  2. If you’re a wise preacher, discuss with those who are younger how you’ll relate to the age difference.
  3. Did you talk the younger elder into considering the appointment?
  4. Have you taught and mentored this man to help him grow to where he is today?
  5. Can you submit to his leadership even though you are older?
  6. Will you count on your younger friend, mentee, to follow your lead, respect your age and experience, and favor your ideas and desires? You may be disappointed.
[tweetthis]Preacher, have you taught and mentored this man? Can you submit to his leadership even though you’re older?[/tweetthis]

Questions for Elders

  1. Do you feel intimidated by the preacher because of his education, experience, or Bible knowledge?
  2. Do you feel superior to your preacher because of your education, finances, experience in certain areas, or Bible knowledge?
  3. Will you discuss this possible tension before you are appointed, after you are appointed, or wait to see if problems occur and deal with it (or not deal with them) then?
  4. Do you look forward to being “in charge” of the preacher because of past disagreements or resentment?
  5. Do you plan to improve or remove the preacher after you become an elder?
  6. Or, will you defer to the preacher the position of pastor and bishop? Will you look to him for most of the visiting, counseling, reclaiming lost sheep, and directing most of the programs of the congregation? Is your idea of shepherding the sheep being sure the preacher is shepherding the sheep? How will you deal with the vacuum when that preacher moves, becomes disabled, or dies? For more on this, read: When Your Preacher Becomes THE Pastor.
[tweetthis]Future elder, do you look forward to being “in charge” of the preacher because of past disagreements or resentment?[/tweetthis]

Observations for Elders and Preachers

  1. Your relationship will leak to the congregation. If there is toxic tension, the members will choose sides.
  2. If you (elder or preacher) are stronger and you’re sure of it, you have a responsibility to follow Jesus in bearing with the failings of the weak (Romans 15:1-3). The strong one may be both — elder and preacher. I’ve met few or less, preachers or elders who thought they were weaker than the other.
  3. Have mutual care and respect for each other. Keep current with your likes, dislikes, irritations, and appreciation.
  4. Have an eldership funeral when new elders are appointed. When one or more elders are added or subtracted, there is a new eldership. Recognize that. Talk about it. Review and renegotiate the rules.
  5. Aim for a Paul-elder relationship of Acts 20.
  6.  Stay with the word. Acts 20:32
  7.  Remember Jesus’ words. Acts 20:35
  8.  Stay connected with the leadership team through prayer (Acts 20:36), expressing emotions as well as facts (Acts 20:37), and walk with brethren (team members) through life’s changes (Acts 20:38).

I’ve had that relationship with most shepherds during my ministry. It was pleasant and encouraging. I felt connected, secure, and supported. The congregation and others saw our mutual respect and cooperation.

How have you dealt with changing dynamics in elder-preacher relationships?
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8 thoughts on “When a Preacher Is Older Than the Elders

  1. Our elders are surrounded! Haha One part-time preacher who is older than all of them (and married many of them, and their children), and me, 39, who could be their son. The love and respect is beautiful. There are no delusions. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We engage and discuss. We all strive to connect and work together. When they brought me on board, I was impressed by the elders’ desire to protect the interests and wishes of both the congregation and the current preacher, and their desire to make sure my transition, and my working relationship with them, the church and the other preacher (who was staying, but eventually took a part-time role), was as comfortable as possible. They acted like SHEPHERDS. How refreshing. In the last 2 1/2 years, my trust in their intent has only grown. They must read your blog (haha actually, I’m certain one, if not two of them, regularly do). Keep up the good work!

  2. Rick,

    Thank you for sharing how to deal with this and other issues. A phrase stuck out in reading your observation, “my trust in their intent has only grown.” To deal with anything, there must be a willingness (an intent) to address all issues — especially uncomfortable topics where there could be problems should they be ignored.

    Thank you for an illustration where brothers are relating well.

  3. I appreciate all that is said here, and especially the note about the aim for the “Paul-elder relationship of Acts 20.” Just because an elder is over the preacher or the preacher is older and maybe wiser, does not mean that a deep, in Christ together relationship cannot exist. Mutual love and respect must exist for church leaders to move the church forward in God’s way(s). The elder(s)-preacher relationship is probably the most critical of all in the church. Very good article, Jerrie.

    • Roger,

      Thank you.

      It is my observation that the church will reflect — in a decade or two — the attitude of the leadership toward each other.

      Unity isn’t an accident looking for a place to happen. Good relationships come with intention, work, and time.

      • Thanks for all the remarks. In reading God’s Word about the matter, an eldership being ‘over others’ of the flock is not to be done with the mental attitude of ‘Lording over God’s heritage’ (1st Peter 5), but ‘ensamples to’. When elders and preachers are more concerned with providing the best example of decision-making by consulting one another in front of the flock, good results, hopefully, will come.


  5. Things do change as the preacher ages. I had not thought much about this until I became the same age or older than the elders. I began to realize they often asked my advice. (Not that they always heeded) Thanks for your work and i appreciate our long term friendship. I still have a few years on you…